The Importance of Art in the Transition Towards a Fair, Just and Sustainable World

Mark Ryden for HEY! 4 Degrees Art

Art can wake us up from the world crisis in which we are currently in and at the same time allow us to dream for a better future.


Biodiversity is declining so fast that we are entering the sixth mass extinction, the effects of climate change are getting more and more severe, inequality is rising and conflicts all over the world are fueled by these trends.

One might be wondering why efforts to turn these trends around have been insufficient until now.

Why are we not all on the streets demanding for change? One of the problems is that these trends are systemic and not incidental. They are always there. No push messages will pop-up on our phones alerting us that today more greenhouse gasses have been emitted then allowed to reach the two-degree target. No newspaper headliners expose that today the richest people of the world got even a bigger share of the world’s capital. No news article sharing that today, many species went extinct and disappeared forever from this globe.

In other words, it is difficult to care for something that is happening continuously in the background.

Art as an alarm clock to wake us up from apathy about our world

Here is where the arts come in. Art has the capacity to make the familiar unfamiliar. It can heal us from the overall numbness we face when we think about the great challenges of our time.

‘The job of artists is to open doors and to invite in the unknown, the unfamiliar. To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.’ Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost


Leo Chiachio & Daniel Giannone, for HEY! 4 Degrees Art


Dreaming and envisioning together: the Earth Charter

What to do when we wake up and see that we are actually living a nightmare? The answer: dream while you are awake. We need to keep a spirit of hope. Hope does not mean that we are denying the current challenges. It means that we have the courage to make things happen. For that, we need to envision a better future.

The Earth Charter is a declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It is a common vision of all nations and cultures on Earth. It was drafted in the most inclusive and participatory process ever associated with the creation of an international declaration. In its 16 principles, the Earth Charter recognizes that the goals of ecological protection, eradication of poverty, respect for human rights, democracy and peace are interdependent. The Earth Charter holds the capacity to serve as an inclusive, integrated ethical framework to guide the transition towards a sustainable future.

Earth Charter embodied in art

The inclusive history and the content of the Earth Charter make it a very powerful document. Here, art can play a role in order to visualize and embody the 16 principles. Numerous artists from various disciplines have been using the Earth Charter as an inspiration. Some examples:

Images in this article appeared in the book HEY 4 Degrees Art. The authors of the book asked 102 artists from 20 countries to answer and visualize questions that emerged from the Earth Charter. Furthermore, an Earth Charter Manga, Graphic Novel and children’s book were published.

dutch urban design

Dutch Urban Design Centre

The Dutch Urban Design Centre has the Earth Charter principle 7c at the core of its business model. Furthermore, multiple songs, a musical, a theater play, and poems have been produced based on the Earth Charter.

To come full circle, I would like to end where I started: art can wake us up from the world crisis in which we are currently in and at the same time allow us to dream for a better future.

Written by: Femke Lootens, intern at Earth Charter International